What comes to mind when I say “Washington, D.C.”? Aside from politically-charged phrases like “gridlock” and “senatorial quagmire,” I imagine it’s, like me, landmarks like the U.S. Capitol, White House and Washington Memorial. These architectural icons symbolize the beating heart of the Free World. When I moved to D.C., to which I am obligated, as a native Seattleite, to refer as the “Other Washington,” I thought of the photographic opportunities that abound in this historic city. The city is old, a thrilling prospect for someone from the Pacific Northwest. In the gold rush of the mid 1800’s, Seattle was just a newborn baby while D.C. already had a master’s degree in political science and was settled down with a good career. Any structure near Seattle built prior to 1900 is reason enough to throw the kids in the Subaru Outback for a weekend pilgrimage. In DC, throw a metro card and you’ll likely hit a stone wall built over a century ago. The antiquity is a draw: Over 21 million tourists traveled here in 2015 (source). Quickly scan Flickr and you’ll find that few buildings escape detection—folders bulging with images of white marble domes and columns. But how can I find a unique way to photograph these structures? Didn't matter. The U.S. Capitol building had been under restoration for several years so the smooth silhouette of it's dome was smothered by scaffolding. What else could I photograph in DC? Ever since seeing the fu dogs that guard entrances of East Asian temples, I've had a thing for stone lions. I knew there was at least one pair of lions in front of Union Station, made famous in the time-lapse intro to the Netflix series “House of Cards.” I saw them for the first time on an open-top bus tour in July. Within minutes, I saw another pair not two blocks away. Made of sandstone and clearly inspired by Egyptian art, these lions stood in stark contrast to the lifelike, marble constructions up the street. How many types of lions I could find throughout the city? Twelve, it turns out. Over several months, I explored the city by foot, bike and bus, through the debilitating heat of summer and the shin-deep snow of winter. The statues spanned a variety of placements, sizes, themes and materials, in every corner of the district. As a bonus, the photographic adventure fit nicely into my love of series, whether it be birds on statues, the ceilings of places of worship, the bridges of Paris, or the cars of Cuba. If Wall Street has wolves and Capistrano has salmon, why can’t D.C. have lions? Columbus Fountain Built in 1912 to commemorate Christopher Columbus, who is flanked by an American Indian to the left (facing west) to represent the New World and an elderly gentleman on the right to represent the Old World. Congress approved the $100,000 needed to build the fountain in 1906. (Source) America’s Square (Jones Day Building), 51 Louisiana Ave Located just one block from the U.S. capitol building, America’s Square (or the Jones Day Building, home to one of the largest law firms in the world) made history in 2014 when it became the most expensive office building in the nation’s capital, changing hands for $500 million—just over $1,000/square foot. (Source) House of the Temple, (Scottish Rite of Freemasonry Center), 16th Street The two ‘lions’ evoke the sphinxes that lay in front of Soloman’s Temple, representing wisdom (south side) and power (north side). Both were carved by Adolph Alexander Weinman – best known for creating the Mercury Dime and Walking Liberty Half Dollar – out of two pieces of solid limestone weighing 76 tons. The temple was completed in 1915 after four years of construction. Over its distinguished history, it won praise from many contemporary architects; it also hosted the first public library in Washington D.C. (Source and Source) Taft Bridge When the Taft Bridge was opened in 1907, it was adorned by four male lions, named the “Perry Lions” after the original sculptor, Roland Hinton Perry. Unfortunately, the lions didn’t fare well, and were restored with varying success in 1964 and 1993, before they were recast by Reinaldo Lopez-Carrizo in 2000. The same molds were used to create the bronze lion statues that mark the west entrance of the National Zoo. (Source) Smithsonian National Zoological Park (West Entrance) Look familiar? These bronze casts where made when the Taft Bridge lions that were resurrected in 2000. These lions stand high above the sidewalk – similar to their brethren half-mile down the street – greeting the two million people that visit the National Zoo every year. (Source and source) Piney Branch Bridge, 16th Street These are tigers, let’s be clear about that. But they were created by one of the most renown U.S. animal sculptors—Alexander Phimister Proctor—who studied tigers in the Bronx Zoo for the contract in 1909 (he lived in New York). The bridge where these tigers reside is pretty special: it’s the first built in the U.S. using a parabolic arch and the longest in the world when it was completed in 1910. (Source and source) Canova Lions, Corcoran Gallery of Art Installed in 1860, these are the oldest lions I could find in D.C. and, being just across the street from the White House, they are easy to add to any tourist itinerary. They are technically copies, though—the originals are located at St. Peters in Rome (sculpted in marble by Antonio Canova in 1792). (Source) Capital Grille Lions There are over fifty locations for the Capital Grille, the first of which was opened in Rhode Island in 1990. So these lions aren’t old or unique, but they are in D.C. (Plus the National Gallery of Art is right across the street). (Source) National Law Enforcement Memorial When completed in 1991, this memorial displayed the names of over 12,000 U.S. law enforcement officers who had fallen in the line of duty (the number has since surpassed 20,000). New names are commemorated every year during Police Week in mid-May. The lionesses were sculpted by Raymond Caskey; the playful cubs, by George Carr. (Source) Netherlands Carillon Across the river in neighboring Virginia and directly adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, the “Netherlands Carillon” boast some of the more unique lions in the D.C. area. Sculpted by Dutch artist Paul Koning, these stately lions perch on top a modest slope looking east across the Potomac River towards the National Mall. Their backdrop is one of the most anachronous protrusions in the D.C. skyline—a 130-foot-tall tower that holds 50 bells gifted to the U.S. by The Netherlands after World War II (49 actually; a 50th bell was added in 1995). (Source) United House of Prayer for All People The United House of Prayer for All People is widespread – over 100 places of worship in more than twenty states – and has several churches in D.C., including its headquarters at 6th and M near the Mt. Vernon metro. A pair of cement lions, with faded white paint and three eyes between the two of them, flank the building next door. Another set of lions can be found at a second church located on H Street; a third further north in Shaw. The church is famous for using fire hoses during mass baptisms and hosting a vibrant marching band parade on Memorial Day. (Source and source) Ulysses S. Grant Memorial This memorial – the largest equestrian monument in the United States – was completed in 1920 to commemorate the Union army general and two-term President (1869-1877). After being petitioned by veterans who served under Grant, Congress approved no more than $250,000 for the project, at that time the largest federal expenditure for a sculpture. It was stipulated that the contract must be awarded to an American artist and completed entirely on American soil. It took nearly two decades for the largely self-taught Henry Merwin Shrady to complete his bronze vision, which included two pairs of stoic lions; he unfortunately died tragically two weeks before the sculpture’s dedication. His back to the Capitol Building, Grant looks west down the entire stretch of the National Mall. It has been under restoration since Spring 2015. (Source)
Travelers know the questions one must field after returning from a trip. “How was the weather?” “What was your favorite part?” “How was the food?” all hurled at you by coworkers as you hug the office coffee maker, trying to fight off jet lag. For some, there is genuine interest in your trip. For most, it’s a perfunctory exchange where, once you start responding, their eyes glaze faster than a Bavarian strudel. Except me. Excuse my bleary-eyed Monday-morning brethren, I want to hear all about your trip. Got pictures? Even better. Go ahead and swipe through all those sandy beaches, ancient ruins and decadent meals. With a limited budget and perennially maxed-out vacation time, it’s a vicarious escape for me, an opportunity to daydream between emails and spreadsheets. I celebrate the fact that my dream destination list, no matter how much I travel, never shortens. My wife’s grandmother is a similar traveler. Last year, despite being well into her 80’s, she took trips to Mexico and Vietnam. And based on the handsome selection of photo albums on her bookshelf, this isn’t a recent urge. One Thanksgiving, I flipped through one of those albums. It was from a trip she took to Nepal and Tibet in the late 1990’s with her now-deceased husband. As a digital-native amateur photographer, I admired the images for the deliberateness implicit in single-exposure film and the warm texture that dances somewhere between the Sierra and Valencia filters on Instagram. But the most lasting impression was left by a single, hand-typed page in the back of the album. It was a simple list of memories – one or two sentences in length each – that served as an addendum to the visual accounts preceding it. Each entry was brief and evocative, capturing a piece of cultural detritus one collects while crossing borders. An analog tweet from an offline status update. I used to take copious notes while traveling. In college, I studied abroad in Asia and dedicated an hour every evening to journaling that day’s events, no matter how mundane. Even though none of these journals have since been cracked, I know they’ll dutifully hold all the memories that would otherwise be lost to time. I don’t know why I stopped journaling. It’s partly because “and then we did this, and then we did this, and then we did this…” doesn’t lead to elegant prose, a goal that most readers should recognize as already unattainable. I also discovered that foreign cultures have beer. Not matter the reason, this type-written page inspired me. Certainly I could manage a few sentences scribbled in the Notes app on my iPhone, or in the Rite-in-the-Rain pad of paper I always carry in my back pocket? A two-week trip to Chile, Argentina and Uruguay seemed like a good opportunity to give it a shot. CHILE Santiago is a crown of sleek skyscrapers amid a cushion of snow-capped mountain tops, reaching staggering heights. Everyone has a mountain bike in Santiago; there are very few road bikes. On Sunday afternoon, the road to top of San Cristobal is packed with walkers, runners and cyclists. Casinos are illegal inside Santiago. Pisco Sour (mixed with a potato-derived alcohol similar to vodko) or Piscola (same alcohol, but with Coke) are the drinks of choice. Meals are meat, meat, meat, and fish. Repeat every day for lunch and dinner. Stray dogs are numerous, tame and remarkably healthy. Many have "night homes" with Santiago residents and roam the street during the day. One chow mix leaned his head against my leg within blocks of our hotels on our first morning then followed our group as we walked a local park looking for birds. He was a welcome addition to the group until he chased through a flock of lapwings and thrushes, returning triumphantly to our group as if to say “hey guys, did you see that?” European-style eating abounds in Chile with dinners starting around 9pm. Mid-afternoon snacks are their bread and butter. Literally, bread and butter. There's no "Chilean" look: a few are descendants of the native Mapuche while many are clearly of European ancestry. It looks like many private homes in Santiago are the love children of American architects and the post-modern orgasm of the 1970's. Wooden funiculars – antique, rickety, and incredibly charming hybrids between gondolas and escalators, with twice the legal liability of both combined – are widely used in the hilly, coastal city of Valparaiso. Coffee was only introduced to Chile – or at least it became popular – a few years ago. Coffee is mostly imported from abroad despite the fact that South America produces so many beans. Passengers applaud in a synchronized rhythm when the plane lands, no matter how uneventful the flight. I can respect a culture that appreciates the miracle of flight. ARGENTINA There's an edge to the people and transactions here that you don't find in Chile, and it's not necessarily a pleasant change. "Crossing like cows" is how our guide described the way in which people blindly cross intersections here, empowered by laws in extreme favor of pedestrians. Our tour bus nearly removed several people from the Buenos Aires gene pool. During hailstorms, motorists will immediately park under trees to avoid damage from the falling ice chunks, which is not covered by insurance. Most cars just stopped in the middle of the arterial, while others drove up and over curbs and over lawns to find cover in a street-side park. Everyone carries a leather satchel that includes a small gourd, slightly bent silver straw with filter, a hot water thermos and a large container of maté, a type of tea. Some may picture a small, dainty, neatly-contained teabag; a heaping handful of grass clippings is a better visual comparison. Some Argentinians garnish with lemon, most drink it raw. Piles of spent maté are frequently encountered and resemble the droppings of a well-hydrated herbivore. Short, quick sentences jotted throughout the day was a very manageable way to journal while traveling. Capturing memories while being able to imbibe during the evenings? That's a win. In other news, as predicted, my travel wish list grew: now I *need* to see Bolivia and the pampas of Brazil.
It was a warm evening even though the sun had disappeared behind the marine horizon hours prior. Thickly vegetated trees—faintly illuminated by the incandescent porch lights—swayed gently in the sea breeze. The waves rhythmically massaged the stretch of sand on the dark, unseen beach beyond, a beach we’d driven three hours to visit, at night. It was the end of our second to last day of our week-long vacation to Trinidad and Tobago. My friend, Toby, a passionate herpetologist, selected this tropical Caribbean location – known for its reptiles and amphibians – as a fitting location to celebrate his 40th birthday. There were birds, too—we’d amassed well over a hundred species after five days, from bellbirds to toucans. Reptiles and amphibians, though, were harder to come by. After several nights of intensive searching, we’d only located a handful of dingy brown poison dart frogs, flighty ameiva and golden tegu lizards, and a marsupial frog carrying eggs underneath the dorsal pouch of skin for which it is named. No snakes, no turtles. Cool, but not the bounty he’d hoped for. In an attempt to change our luck, we scoured the sandy beaches on the eastern shore of Tobago—Trinidad’s smaller cousin to the north—the previous night, following the trail of turtle icons on our tourist map, looking for the telltale drag marks of a female Leatherback Turtle pulling herself onshore to lay eggs. By 11’o’clock, the only thing we had to show for it was sand in our shoes and yet another species of bird: a White-tailed Nightjar hawking insects in the bright light of an isolated, roadside power station. Sorry, Toby. And with the last three nights of our trip already booked in the industrial capital of Port of Spain, seeing new bird species—let alone herps—wasn’t likely. But we were on vacation, and the Grand Rivierè region, isolated in the far northeastern corner of the country, hosts one of the largest nesting beaches for the endangered Leatherback. And it's also one of the most reliable spots to find Trinidad Piping-Guans, a critically-endangered bird species that numbers in the low 100's and is found nowhere else on earth. And we had a rental car and weren’t scared of a three-hour drive. And I had a credit card. With one simple email we had a room booked at an eco-resort on the turtle-nesting beach—our most expensive night of the trip (even if it had been our only reservation that night, which it wasn’t). After an elegant late dinner in an open-air cabana and a five-minute walk, Toby and I were milling in a dirt parking lot with fellow nature enthusiasts and a guide from the Turtle Village Trust. He marched through the perfunctory speech setting the stage for the ecological significance of the Grand Rivierè, which hosts one of the largest densities of Leatherback Turtles in the world. The species – weighing up to 2,000 pounds – can be found in marine waters in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans from the Arctic Circle south to New Zealand and South America, making it a candidate for the world’s widest-ranging vertebrate. Up to 500 females haul up every night on this sandy beach to each lay around a hundred eggs deep in the sand. Those eggs will hatch into an even percentage of males and females if the temperature is just right, 85.1° in fact; more females if warmer, more males if cooler (editorial comment consciously avoided). After two months, hatchlings emerge from the sand and instinctively head to sea. For every hundred turtles born, only a handful live long enough to reach sexual maturity, believed to be about 15 years. After mating, the females will migrate nearly 4,000 miles one-way to the same area where they were born. The males will remain at sea their entire lives. Our 3.5-hour drive—and welcome cocktails—suddenly didn’t seem so grueling. We followed the naturalist out of the parking lot. It grew darker and darker as we walked down the dirt road towards the beach. Light confuses nesting turtles, which navigate by stars at sea. Beach-side homes and guesthouses were nearly dark. The number of tourist who can visit every evening is capped and flashlights and flash photography are strictly prohibited. As the dirt underneath our feet turned to sand, my eyes started to adjust. Slowly, enormous black forms began to appear on the wide stretch of sand before us. I was speechless. A fleshy boulder glistened in the moonlight, its long, flat appendages straining to catch enough soft sand to move its hulking frame. First it was one, then two, then a separate cluster of four. We would soon count over 50 of these Volkswagen-sized marine reptiles in an area close enough to be seen in the near darkness. The density of behemoths made it difficult to navigate amongst them. We trailed the red flashlight of our guide to find a female who was depositing ping-pong ball-sized eggs into a deep, narrow pit she’d excavated with her hind flippers. To avoid using a flash, I set my camera on a tripod for long-exposure shots. It was nearly impossible to focus the camera in the near darkness and the turtles shifted restlessly. Achieving a sharp image of one of these turtles seemed as likely as a hatchling reaching adulthood. We stayed with one female and watched gelatinous tears stream down her face. I knew that she was dispelling the salt she ingests during a pelagic life, from drinking seawater and a diet that consists entirely of jellyfish. But, considering her journey, and the arduousness with which she completed this evolutionary imperative, it was hard to not anthropomorphize this as pain, or perhaps cathartic elation for her near-completed journey. We knelt beside her and placed our hands, in sheer reverence, on her smooth, hydrodynamic shell. Nearby, hatchlings were discovered in the tailings of an adjacent female’s excavation (with the density of breeding females, nests are bound to be built on top of one another). Following our guides insistence, Toby and I eagerly helped them to the water. One by one, members of our group peeled off until Toby and I were the last. We decided it’d be best to leave the turtles in peace and let our guide go home. We weren’t gone for long. By 5:00AM the following morning—before our prearranged birding tour—we were out on the beach again to find several dozen turtles in the dim twilight. Black Vultures had gathered to eat the eggs that had been dug up the previous night. Armed with a camera and tripod and the ability to use my headlamp as a supplemental light (impending daylight makes it less likely to disorient turtles with camera flashes), I made quick work of the twenty minutes we had. Thankfully, some of the images turned out. It wouldn’t have mattered though: I will never forget these impressive animals. The drive was already worth it but, just in case I had any doubts, within an hour we had crippling views of the national bird of Trinidad, the piping guan. Another endemic that had previously eluded us, the colorful Trinidad Euphonia, was seen minutes later. That evening, back near Port of Spain on a boat tour of Caroni Swamp, the guide miraculously found a roosting Amazon Tree Boa in an area as massive as it was dense: a proverbial cold-blooded needle in a mangrove haystack. We joked that it was a pet planted there every morning for awestruck tourists. That didn’t matter: it was our first snake in the country. Check. RESOURCES
This is a regular series where I go to the farthest reaches of the globe, walk around, observe daily life, eat some food, maybe take some photos, and say "wow, that shit would not fly back home." It sounds elitist and dismissive, but it's quite the opposite. If I haven't expressed some sort of disbelief with what I have experienced while traveling, I simply haven't explored deeply enough. This is why I keep reaching for my passport and, this time, it was to go to Trinidad and Tobago. It was my second time to a Caribbean island in less than a year. I saw some great birds but I also experienced another beautiful country. I wasn't disappointed.
English is the Official Spoken Language, Kind OfTrinidad is a former British colony and thus, English is the official language and nearly everyone in the tourism industry speaks it flawlessly. Go off the beaten path or listen when your hosts speak to one another, however, and it'll become clear that what you hear is a slowed down and tidied up version of their own English-based Creole. In a linguistic system one part efficient and two parts indifferent, Creole strips its predecessor of many elements our ears have grown to appreciate, like "s" sounds and the breathy pauses between words. Numerous times I found myself concentrating intently on peoples’ mouths in an uncomfortable space where I both recognized my own language yet had no grasp on what was being communicated. And squinting harder didn’t help. Any glimmer of recognizable English was quickly dashed by a perplexing juggernaut of consonants and vowels. Even the phrases I understood were used in unfamiliar contexts: “Good Night” is an evening greeting in Trinidad, not the intimate farewell one says just before going to sleep. The pace of the language thankfully is formed by the tropical climate; phrases mellifluously follow one another off the tongue like a slowly poured rum punch. It was fun to drink in.
Rental Car SwitcharooI booked a car on Travelocity through “Fox Rental Car” for our arrival in Trinidad. When we landed – at around 9pm after a full day of travel – we couldn’t find the Fox Rental Car kiosk. Avis, Alamo, Budget, and Thrifty were all present; Fox was nowhere to be seen. Even the tourist information center was closed. Thankfully, the gentleman at the cab stand agreed to use his personal phone to call the number on our email reservation. An enthusiastic voice on the other line said that he’d be there within 20 minutes. Nearly an hour later, a young man clad in blue jeans, a black shirt and flip-flops showed up with a laptop case and clipboard—none of it branded “Fox.” I passed a glance at the paperwork and noticed a different name entirely: “Xtra Car Lease.” The logo looked to be a product of Microsoft Clipart to my incredulous eyes. After some cautious prodding—but before he ran my credit card on his portable reader—we learned that Fox contracts with his company to provide cars in countries where they don’t have offices. Most Americans would be unsettled by this lack of transparency, but my need for a pillow overruled my skepticism. We swiped my credit card, checked for damage, shook hands and took off for the mountains in our dramatically underpowered Nissan.
Zip-tied HubcapsLet me be perfectly clear: there aren’t many problems in life that can’t be solved with duct tape, zip-ties, SuperGlue or a combination of all three. I had just never seen Zip-Ties used so blatantly on a car. Personally, I appreciate the ingenuity of using plastic fasteners to keep the hub caps attached to the vehicle. Americans, who aren’t used to driving on the other side of the road, may be unwittingly prone to clip curbs, thus liberating the car of any disk-shaped pieces of plastic located at the point of contact (ask my dad about Australia in 1998). It does, however, raise concerns about how issues with other, perhaps more important, parts of the car were fixed. For me, it was a nice accent piece. And damned if we didn’t return the car with all four hubcaps still attached.
Sleeping with wiresI awoke on our first morning in our guesthouse on Tobago to find exposed wires protruding from the wall and laying on my bed at about thigh level. While I seriously doubt they were live, if they had been, and if my leg had brushed them up during my normal sleep behavior (read: spirited, bordering on violent), I would have awoken in a manner somewhere between “rude as hell” and “sorry, you can’t have kids." The ambient temperature hovered in the low 90’s all night, with humidity to match. Sweat-soaked skin doesn’t act as an efficient conductor of electricity, does it? I am still debating whether the sizzle or the (pop!) would awoken me first.
“When will we know if the 4:25 flight is delayed?”After spending two beautiful days exploring Tobago, Trinidad’s accompanying island to the north, we arrived back at the capital city, Scarlborough, for our return flight. The airport is small but there are flights between the two islands every thirty minutes. We were informed upon our arrival that our flight, which left in about an hour and a half, would likely be delayed. Apparently a mechanical issue earlier in the day had had a cascading effect on all scheduled flights. But the Caribbean Airlines employee suggested that we stay nearby because they may be back on track by the time our flight was scheduled. One look to the flight status board stated that the 4:25 flight was on time, so we went across the street to seek much-needed air-conditioning in the airport café. Flight updates were projected over the café’s loudspeaker, but if there’s anything that can make English-based creole less intelligible to American ears, it’s amplifying it through a speaker beaten down by time, salty air and humidity. At about 3:50, less than thirty minutes before our flight was to take off, I left the cool confines of the café to check the flight status: “ON TIME.” To verify, I waited in the growing queue to speak to a representative. “Excuse me, is the 4:25pm flight still delayed?” “We don’t know yet.” “OK, when will you know?” “4:26.” I scanned her face, waiting for a hint of humor. No, she was serious: the flight won't officially be delayed until after it was scheduled to take off. I thanked Captain Obvious and walked back to the café. In the end, our twenty-minute flight was delayed over two hours. We were late again to pick up our rental car from Xtra Car Lease.
Dangling Power LinesEven if these were well insulated as to not cause any harm from electrocution, there are very few instances where one has to navigate around powerlines during a normal day. If you do, you have bigger issues to worry about.
Radio Announcer TMIWhile driving on Trinidad, we heard a radio announcer state very matter-of-factly that he had used the previous break to go to the bathroom and smoke a cigarette out back. I appreciated his candor, though it approached “too much information” for the airwaves. That being said, it’s still better than the explosions and loud voices we hear back home.
Road Conditions, No BullThere are some beautiful windy mountain roads on both Trinidad and Tobago: lush foliage, isolated streams and impressive vistas. Due to the conditions of the road, however, the passenger was the only one who could enjoy them. Massive potholes, large piles of gravel, stopped cars, and veering oncoming traffic—all in a country with the lowest “warning sign to blind corner” ratio I’ve ever encountered—meant that the driver couldn’t ever take their eyes off the road. And sometimes the eyes of both the driver and passenger are affixed on the road, specifically on the massive bull in the compact pick-up truck ahead of them.
The “No Wave”Most who know me know that I am fairly even-tempered. But one thing that gets me really fired up is when drivers do not wave when you obviously took precious time out of your day to let them pass. Clearly, the ten seconds it takes me to back up my car is worth the 0.000015 calories required for you to lift your finger off the steering wheel to show your appreciation. Interestingly, Trinidadians do not wave to one another while driving, or at least not to us. Perhaps it’s a national referendum to save energy considering the number of blind corners and narrow passages exist in this country; drivers’ hands would spend too much time away from the wheel.
“Chicken Lane”Just outside of Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain, we encountered a five-lane road where the center lane was dedicated to whomever was using it. It didn’t matter which direction you were going: if you were there, it was yours. It wasn’t a turn lane. People were driving down at the same speed of traffic, and the direction of cars on this lane changed from block to block.
Customer ServiceIt could be us, but we never really encountered any “service with a smile” while in Trinidad and Tobago. We certainly don’t have high expectations and while I’m “lactose unpleasant” and Toby has a wheat allergy, we are generally low maintenance and affable. We certainly never found any bubbly personalities in the service sector. Transactions were helpful but very, um… transactional. While it was approaching closing time, Toby’s request for a piña colada at a restaurant was met with an overt eye-roll from our waitress as she walked away, to the extent where we didn’t actually know if she’d return with the drink (she did, it was delicious). She wasn’t exactly overjoyed with my request for a double rum, neat; a drink, need I remind you, that is the simplest to prepare (tilt bottle over glass) and offers the highest profit margin of anything in the restaurant. It was a challenge for us to break our waiters and waitresses with our charm and wit, and it was one we accepted with aplomb. As for our piña colada waitress, we had to wait until the following day to break her. She was way on the other side of the street but we would’ve see that precious smile a mile away. But as long as the interaction – no matter how warm or cold – results with a rum drink in my hand, I won't complain.
"Oh, you're trying to find as many species as possible today?" I was a bit stupefied when these words came out of the mouth of our Trinidadian guide. It was early afternoon, a full eight hours into our Birdathon, and it appeared that the foundational strategy for the 24-hour challenge hadn't yet sunk in. Toby Ross, close friend, nature lover and Seattle Audubon employee, and I were just beginning our week-long vacation in Trinidad and Tobago at the renowned Asa Wright Lodge, perched on top a verdant mountain valley on the tropical island of Trinidad. Birdwatchers travel here from around the world to see colorful species from North America and the Caribbean mix with denizens from South America, located just ten miles off the countries southern coast. As a habitat, the tropical rainforest is infamous for straining the necks of birdwatchers who seek fleeting glimpses of parrots, toucans and cotingas high in the dense canopy above. At Asa Wright, you can sit comfortably—coffee in hand—from the lodge's well-situated veranda and effortlessly spot birds on treetops down valley, all while dozens of species of colorful hummingbirds and tanagers visit feeders almost directly in front of your face. As Toby and I planned a full-day effort in an environment replete with unfamiliar species and sounds, we knew that local knowledge was necessary to find as many species as possible. But when birding is so easy, and in a region already renowned for a unhurried approach to life, it was hard to instill the urgency required for a "Big Day." Our requests for private guides at the front desk were met with counteroffers to sign up for established tours. Questions to the on-staff naturalists about which habitats would offer the longest species list were met with shrugs and slightly bewildered expressions. It was pretty clear that Birdathon this year was going to be different. Truth be known, it wasn't difficult to adopt an approach more agreeable to our Caribbean hosts. Compared to previous Birdathons, my normally long drives to prime birding areas were replaced with a short, sleepy shuffle to the famous verandah. And when I first raised my binoculars to my eyes, my usual "first birds" - Dark-eyed Junco, American Robin, House Finch - were replaced with Spectacled Thrush, Crested Oropendola and Orange-winged Parrot. We were indeed a long way from home. The excitement continued; another forty species – and a cup of coffee – followed those first three before we sat down to a quickly consumed breakfast. (In order of appearance). Spectacled Thrush Crested Oropendola Orange-winged Parrot Barred Antshrike Silver-billed Tanager Great Kiskadee Palm Tanager Cocoa Thrush Wattled Bellbird Banaquit Green Honeycreeper Violaceous Euphonia White-banded Tanager White-necked Jacobin Gray-fronted Dove White-chested Emerald Tufted Coquette Blue-throated Mango Yellow Oriole Golden-olive Woodpecker Blue Dacnis Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl Bay-headed Tanager Blue-chinned Sapphire Scaled Pigeon Long-billed Starthroat Squirrel Cuckoo Common Black Hawk Black Vulture Tropical Mockingbird Coppery-rumped Hummingbird Double-toothed Kite Shiny Cowbird Purple Honeycreeper House Wren Red-legged Honeycreeper Rufous-breasted Hermit Black-tailed Tityra White Hawk Piratic Flycatcher Turkey Vulture After stuffing fried eggs in our faces, it was time for our 8:30 tour to the famous protected caves which hold a breeding population of oilbirds. This species, which is in its own family, is the only nocturnal, fruit-eating bird in the world. Oilbirds have the face of an owl, the flutter-like flight of a swallow, but the wingspan of a harrier. They howl, growl and click to echolocate in the dark...and this is one of the best places in the world to see them. We were not going to see a lot of species on this field trip, but our target was obviously special. Streaked Xenops Oilbird Golden-headed Manakin Euler's Flycatcher White-chinned Thrush Trinidad Motmot Green Hermit White-bearded Manakin We were back at the lodge by 10:30 to meet Mahese (mah-HEESE), our private guide for the remainder of the day. We dutifully explained that we wanted to see as many species as possible. He expressed surprise when we confirmed this strategy several hours later. That being said, he was a wealth of local knowledge. I casually mentioned that it'd be fun to see a Pearl Kite, a small falcon a little larger than a robin. "Oh yeah?" he replied. Within minutes, we were on the side of the road with a scope trained on a thick tangle of branches a top a tree: the head of a Pearl Kite peered back from it's nest. We were at the entrance to the Arima Agricultural Station, a grassy area known for its birds and the hybrid water buffalo / brahma cows that are bred there. Highlights were a pair of a small flock of Green-rumped Parrotlets and a pair of roosting Tropical Screech-Owls. Southern Rough-winged Swallow Rock Dove Pearl Kite Tropical Kingbird Carib Grackle Ruddy Ground-Dove Red-breasted Blackbird Southern Lapwing Grassland Yellow-Finch Wattled Jacana Savanna Hawk Yellow-chinned Spinetail White-headed Marsh-Tyrant Pied Marsh-Tyrant Gray-breasted Martin Cattle Egret White-winged Swallow Green-rumped Parrotlet Tropical Screech-Owl Blue-gray Tanager Back on the road again, we hit the east coast of the island around 1:00pm. We stopped for lunch at a beach smothered with sargassum seaweed. It was unprecedented on both Trinidad and Tobago and the talk of the whole island. Judging by the smell in the hot midday sun, I could see why Trinidadians were upset. Strategic stops in the mangrove forests nearby afforded us fleeting glimpses of two species of kingfisher; Mahese used a tape to bring in a stunning Black-crowned Antshrike. Plumbeous Kite Smooth-billed Ani Pale-vented Pigeon Yellow-headed Caracara Magnificent Frigatebird Black-crowned Antshrike Blue-black Grassquit Ringed Kingfisher Green Kingfisher We drove slowly through the temporal wetlands at Nariva Swamp, which were now, unfortunately, dry. We waited at the far end of the swamp, near a stand of palm trees that usually host Red-bellied Macaws towards the end of the day. It was another decision that flies in the face of a normal "big day," but this charismatic species was worth it. After about an hour of waiting (with rum punch in hand), a pair finally showed up and alit right on the exact palm tree that Mahese predicted. Yellow-breasted Flycatcher Rufous-browed Peppershrike Striated Heron Great Egret Gray Kingbird Yellow-bellied Elaenia Limpkin Crested Caracara Green-throated Mango Osprey Yellow-hooded Blackbird Purple Gallinule Striped Cuckoo Giant Cowbird Long-winged Harrier Short-tailed Swift Fork-tailed Palm-Swift Red-bellied Macaw It was just an hour before nightfall and we were four species short of 100, our goal for the day. A large Linneated Woodpecker flew over the van as we held vigil for the macaws. As we drove out, Mahese pointed out White-tipped Dove and Yellow-crowned Parrot. Ninety-nine. "I know where you can get one more," Mahese confided wryly as we took a left out of the swamp. Within fifteen minutes we were on the side of the road in a small village, looking up at a tree: Yellow-rumped Cacique. One hundred.
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When I was a child, the California Condor made me cry. Not due to physical trauma, mind you. I wouldn't have stood a chance against a bird that stood nearly as tall as my five-year-old self. It reflected emotional pain. I loved birds and, when I learned the plight of the near-extinct species, I was heartbroken. The fact of losing a once-widespread icon of the western frontier was probably lost on me. It had a nine-foot wingspan - one of the largest of terrestrial birds worldwide - and I selfishly wanted to see one in the wild. I was at a National Audubon Society conference with my mom who then worked at the Seattle chapter. The setting was magical: Asilomar on the California Coast near Monterey. A convivial flock of Acorn Woodpeckers on the premises is what attracted me to birdwatching: my "gateway bird," so to speak. Passionate bird conservationists gathered from around the country and, amongst the meetings and networking events, the California Condor took center stage. For the children, educators rolled out an impressive piece of cloth that was cut to represent the life-sized silhouette of the massive bird. Scientists gave presentations that outlined the plight of the species. At that time, in the mid-1980's, there were only 22 birds left in the wild: the situation was dire. Habitat loss, the pesticide DDT, electrocution from power lines, pressures from cattle ranching and poisoning from lead shot proved too much for the dedicated scavenger. I cried all night. According to my mother, I was inconsolable. Word of my concern spread and, by the following morning, the world's experts on California Condors had assembled at our breakfast table; PhD ornithologists had gathered to assuage the concerns of a five-year-old child. My mother recollects that I didn't say a word, I just held my chin barely above the edge of the table. Undeterred by my melancholic state, the scientists reassured me that they were doing absolutely everything they could to save the emblematic species. Unfortunately, I never did see a California Condor in the wild: the last one - a stubborn male called "AC9" - was dramatically caught by scientists in 1987 in a last ditch effort to rebuild the population through an ambitious captive breeding program. All of the California Condors in the world were contained in a facility at the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo (and later, facilities in Oregon and Idaho). Exposure to humans was strictly controlled: the locations were closed to the public and chicks were hand-reared with life-like condor sock puppets. It worked. Fast forward thirty years and over 200 condors now form wild populations throughout central and southern California, northern Arizona, and Baja California (with another 200 birds in captivity, source). In 2003, chicks fledged in the wild for the first time in over two decades (over 40 birds have fledged in the wild through 2014, source). When my wife and I discussed moving away from our native Seattle, we considered both San Francisco and New York City. As a birder, I mentally calculated that I could see more new species in the Northeast; San Francisco and Seattle are both on the west coast and, as a result, share many of the same birds. But California has condors; Washington and New York don't. When we ended up moving to the Bay Area (a decision made totally independent of my birding life list) it started to look like I'd finally see a condor in the wild. And, for my 36th birthday, my wife suggested that we give it a shot; Highway 101 along the coastline of Big Sur National Park - a decent spot for spotting soaring condors - was only a 3.5 hour drive south. The timing of our attempt, the Saturday after my birthday, was significant because it was also the birthday of my non-birding wife. She generously chose to spend the day searching for an obscure bird I'd revered since childhood. Thankfully, the Big Sur coastline is some of the most beautiful landscape in the world. Mature redwood forests tucked into valleys flanked by curvaceous ridges of verdant pastures, all giving way to a undulating rocky coastline that creates endless points and bays in both directions. We stopped many times to scope the water: within minutes we saw the spout of a gray whale. Then another. And another. Soon, we watched a pod of hundreds of Common Dolphins gradually move north in the brilliant morning light. At every stop, we found more cetaceans, mostly Gray Whales (migrating north from their breeding waters in Baja), pods of Pacific White-sided Dolphins, and a single Humpback Whale. Kristi used the spotting scope to watch the water while I scanned the ridge lines for soaring raptors. Nothing but Red-tailed Hawks, Common Ravens, and Turkey Vultures so far. Our most productive spot was a nondescript pullout nicknamed "Sea Lion Lookout." A group of four feeding Gray Whales allowed for sustained scope views, much to the delight of the many people who stopped to see what we were looking at. This was a good spot for condors so, as everyone looked out, I looked up, waiting for the silhouette that never showed. We had plenty of coastline left so we continued to the popular Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It was a madhouse. Parked cars were overflowing onto the busy highway, so we decided to skip seeing the famous waterfall that everyone was there to see. As Kristi used the facilities before we returned to our car, I looked up yet again. After seeing nothing but hawks, vultures, and ravens, their massive wingspan was unmistakable, even to the naked eye. I scurried to get my binoculars to my eyes: the patches of white feathers extending down the inside of their wing was diagnostic. California Condors. As people and cars nonchalantly passed, I set up my scope and enjoyed prolonged views of four condors soaring along the ridge: one adult, with a bright orange head set against a crisp black and white underwing, and three darker, drabber juveniles. Kristi came out long enough for a brief look and a kiss on the cheek—a tradition whenever I see a new species. Despite the fact that these birds were likely hatched in captivity and released into the wild (you can look up their birth date if you get a good enough view of the color and number of the wing tags, which I didn't) they were riding wild thermals like they did centuries ago. The birdwatching purist in me appreciated the fact that the status of condors was recently reinstated as "countable" by the American Birding Association, the grand arbiter of what species are established in North America. This validated today's sighting amongst my birdwatching peers. But that didn't matter to the five-year-old who saw the wingspan unfurled in front of him three decades ago: he was thrilled. "Whoa, what's that!" Kristi broke my daydream a little further down the highway. Another eight condors were soaring above the ridge line, this time much closer to the road. We quickly pulled off and I watched them for fifteen minutes before they all disappeared. We were in the right place and precisely the right time. It was a fleeting moment, but it'll stay with me forever. I wish I could thank the scientists who made it possible to see twelve California Condors in a single day. Over breakfast, of course.
At some point, you visited my travel blog. For that, I thank you. You also signed up for an automated email alert from Google. You are among elite company. But, unfortunately, those robot-generated alerts aren't easy on the eyes. I thought it was time to fix that, so please sign up for my new email alerts. Let's face it, this: ... looks a lot better than this: I look forward to having you join us. And thank you for reading Flocking Somewhere! ~ Adam
Cuba lies fewer than 100 miles off the Floridan coast and despite being just the size of Virginia - or half of Utah - the country holds twenty-seven species of birds that are found no where else on earth (which neither state can claim). In October 2014, BirdNote initiated its international travel program with a trip to this captivating destination. We had a well-balanced itinerary that exposed our group to the arts, food, culture, natural spaces and people of this beautiful country. We did, however, visit Cuba on the least ideal month for birdwatching; neotropical migrants had already passed through and many of the resident specialties were not singing on territory (March is the best month, according to our guide). We still manage to tally 83 species on our six-day trip, even though the two days we set aside specifically for birdwatching coincided with the rainiest weather of the trip. Of these species, 22 are only found in the Caribbean, and 12 are only found in Cuba. Here's the list of species we found, by location. You can also jump to the full species list here >> Monday, October 20 2014 7:30am - 8:20am Hotel Nacional de Cuba (23.144005,-82.3802733) The grounds of this iconic hotel isn't very expansive, or natural, but we found a decent assortment of birds, including several species of warbler and a tanager in the large pine tree. Eurasian Collared-Dove (15) Common Ground-Dove (5) Mourning Dove (5) Antillean Palm-Swift (2) Red-legged Thrush (4) Northern Mockingbird (4) American Redstart (2) Northern Parula (1) Palm Warbler (4) Yellow-throated Warbler (1) Summer Tanager (1) Cuban Blackbird (30) House Sparrow (6) 10:50am - 11:30am Finca Vigia (23.0677525,-82.2962719) The grounds of Hemingway’s Home are incredibly lush. I wish we had more time there, and had arrived earlier in the day. Turkey Vulture (7) Cuban Emerald (2) American Kestrel (1) Red-legged Thrush (8) Northern Mockingbird (6) Northern Parula (1) Cuban Blackbird (10) Tuesday, October 21 2014 8:00am - 8:10am Hotel Nacional de Cuba (23.144005,-82.3802733) I made a quick tour of the grounds before breakfast. It was a good decision: I found my only Tawny-shouldered Blackbird of the trip! Eurasian Collared-Dove (3) Mourning Dove (5) Antillean Palm-Swift (1) Cuban Emerald (1) Palm Warbler (6) Yellow-throated Warbler (1) Tawny-shouldered Blackbird (2) Cuban Blackbird (5) House Sparrow (2) 10:00am - 12:30pm Jardin Botanico Nacional (22.9923477,-82.3370147) An immense botanical gardens with loads of birding opportunities. We walked around the visitor’s center and through the nearby greenhouses. We then took our bus to the Japanese garden where we strolled around the small lake and had lunch. Osprey (1) Red-tailed Hawk (1) Common Gallinule (3) Killdeer (1) Spotted Sandpiper (1) Common Ground-Dove (3) Great Lizard-Cuckoo (2) Antillean Palm-Swift (9) Belted Kingfisher (1) West Indian Woodpecker (2) Cuban Green Woodpecker (1) Cuban Pewee (2) Loggerhead Kingbird (1) Cuban Vireo (1) Red-legged Thrush (1) Northern Mockingbird (11) Tennessee Warbler (8) American Redstart (2) Northern Parula (1) Palm Warbler (25) Cuban Blackbird (22) Greater Antillean Grackle (14) Wednesday, October 22 2014 10:35am - 12:05pm Soroa Orchid Garden (22.7936969,-83.0086505) A loop of the lush grounds, with rain. Hooded Warbler = rare find! Turkey Vulture (24) Great Lizard-Cuckoo (1) Cuban Emerald (6) Cuban Trogon (1) West Indian Woodpecker (4) Cuban Pewee (1) Loggerhead Kingbird (3) Red-legged Thrush (1) Northern Mockingbird (4) Cape May Warbler (1) Black-throated Blue Warbler (1) Palm Warbler (7) Yellow-throated Warbler (1) Western Spindalis (2) Cuban Blackbird (6) Greater Antillean Grackle (12) 3:00pm - 4:20pm Hacienda Cortina (22.6337022,-83.4088308) This is unfortunately when the skies decided to dampen our optics. Thankfully the downpour we experienced right before lunch let up a bit. We were with a local guide who took us to the exact tree where endemic Giant Kingbirds breed. We were just a few months too early. Olive-capped Warblers in the pine trees were a nice consolation and a beautiful male Hooded Warbler was only the second our excited guide had ever seen at this destination. Green Heron (4) Turkey Vulture (14) Common Ground-Dove (2) Smooth-billed Ani (5) Cuban Emerald (3) Cuban Trogon (2) West Indian Woodpecker (3) Cuban Green Woodpecker (1) American Kestrel (1) Loggerhead Kingbird (1) Red-legged Thrush (1) Northern Mockingbird (9) Common Yellowthroat (1) Hooded Warbler (1) American Redstart (2) Northern Parula (1) Palm Warbler (4) Olive-capped Warbler (1) Red-legged Honeycreeper (1) Western Spindalis (16) Summer Tanager (1) Cuban Blackbird (46) Greater Antillean Grackle (14) Thursday October 23 2014 9:40am - 12:15pm East Vinales Valley (22.624714,-83.6882365) We went on a lightly-traveled dirt road out to the steep limestone cliffs that hold the endemic Cuban Solitaire, a plain bird with an incredible song. The unrelenting rain insured that the walk out was more of a muddy slog. I started to hear the solitaire's song about 100 meters from the end of the trail, but I didn't know if it was coming from a cage in a nearby farmhouse. It was wild and it sang from the dense foliage at the base of the cliff for 45 minutes before I was informed that we had to go. I gave it three more minutes: At two minutes, it flew in and perched on an exposed branch long enough to get in the scope. Incredible. Wood Duck (1) Anhinga (2) Cattle Egret (5) Turkey Vulture (9) Smooth-billed Ani (1) Cuban Emerald (3) Cuban Tody (1) Cuban Green Woodpecker (2) Loggerhead Kingbird (3) Cuban Vireo (1) Cuban Solitaire (1) Northern Mockingbird (7) Black-and-white Warbler (1) American Redstart (5) Palm Warbler (8) Olive-capped Warbler (1) Yellow-headed Warbler (4) Yellow-faced Grassquit (4) Cuban Blackbird (15) Greater Antillean Grackle (20) 5:10pm - 6:35pm Horizontes La Ermita Hotel (22.611507,-83.6990699) I walked around with two tour participants and found some nice species around the hotel grounds and down the street. Highlights were numerous Olive-capped Warblers in the roadside pine trees. Great Egret (1) Cattle Egret (4) Mourning Dove (3) Antillean Palm-Swift (3) Cuban Emerald (2) Cuban Green Woodpecker (1) Northern Flicker (1) American Kestrel (2) Cuban Pewee (1) Cuban Vireo (1) Red-legged Thrush (1) Gray Catbird (2) Northern Mockingbird (12) Black-and-white Warbler (1) Palm Warbler (5) Olive-capped Warbler (8) Prairie Warbler (1) Red-legged Honeycreeper (5) Cuban Blackbird (3) Greater Antillean Grackle (15) Friday, October 24 2014 11:30am - 3:45pm Las Terrazas (22.8447446,-82.9435265) We had a tour of Las Terrazas, a small community with a hospital and numerous schools. I looked for birds at every stop, but the restaurant was the most productive location, providing our first and only Cuban Bullfinches. I scoped a soaring accipiter at the coffee shop: I would've called it a Cooper's Hawk back home, which is a Gundlach's Hawk in Cuba. Another endemic! Turkey Vulture (250) Gundlach’s Hawk (1) White-crowned Pigeon (1) Smooth-billed Ani (1) West Indian Woodpecker (3) Cuban Green Woodpecker (2) Northern Flicker (1) Cuban Pewee (2) La Sagra’s Flycatcher (1) Loggerhead Kingbird (1) Yellow-throated Vireo (3) Red-legged Thrush (2) Northern Mockingbird (3) Northern Parula (1) Magnolia Warbler (1) Bay-breasted Warbler (2) Palm Warbler (3) Yellow-throated Warbler (1) Red-legged Honeycreeper (5) Yellow-faced Grassquit (16) Cuban Bullfinch (6) Western Spindalis (6) Cuban Blackbird (31) Greater Antillean Grackle (35) 4:25pm - 4:35pm Presa Machucucutu (23.0398506,-82.4935913) We stopped to have a quick bathroom break next to a large, roadside wetland. No lifers for anyone but a lot of new species for the trip. Ring-necked Duck (3) Ruddy Duck (3) Pied-billed Grebe (12) Great Blue Heron (2) Great Egret (5) Snowy Egret (5) Green Heron (3) Black-crowned Night-Heron (5) Turkey Vulture (3) Common Gallinule (4) American Coot (40) Belted Kingfisher (2) Here's a full list of the birds that were seen by one or all of the group, with location and date of the first sighting. All species in BLACK are only found in the Caribbean; RED are only found in Cuba. WOOD DUCK (East Vinales Valley - Oct. 23) RING-NECKED DUCK (Presa Machucucutu - Oct. 24) RUDDY DUCK (Presa Machucucutu - Oct. 24) HELMETED GUINEAFOWL (Domestic) (Hotel Nacional de Cuba) INDIAN PEAFOWL (Domestic) (Hotel Nacional de Cuba) PIED-BILLED GREBE (Presa Machucucutu - Oct. 24) AMERICAN FLAMINGO (Domestic) (Las Terrazas - Oct. 24) DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Cojimar - Oct. 20) ANHINGA (East Vinales Valley - Oct. 23) BROWN PELICAN (Havana - Oct. 25) GREAT BLUE HERON (Presa Machucucutu - Oct. 24) GREAT EGRET (seen along the highway a couple times) SNOWY EGRET (Presa Machucucutu - Oct. 24) REDDISH EGRET (Horizontes La Ermita Hotel - Oct. 23) CATTLE EGRET (seen from the highway) GREEN HERON (Hacienda Cortina - Oct. 22) BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Presa Machucucutu - Oct. 24) TURKEY VULTURE (how could you miss these?) OSPREY (Jardin Botanico Nacional - Oct. 21) GUNDLACH’S HAWK (Las Terrazas - Oct. 24) RED-TAILED HAWK (Jardin Botanico Nacional - Oct. 21) COMMON GALLINULE (seen at two locations) AMERICAN COOT (Presa Machucucutu - Oct. 24) KILLDEER (Jardin Botanico Nacional - Oct. 21) SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Jardin Botanico Nacional - Oct. 21) LAUGHING GULL (Havana - Oct. 20) ROYAL TERN (Cojimar - Oct. 20) ROCK PIGEON (Most numerous in Havana) SCALY-NAPED PIGEON (Vinales Valley Overlook - Oct. 23) WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON (Las Terrazas - Oct. 24) EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (widespread) COMMON GROUND-DOVE (widespread) MOURNING DOVE (widespread) GREAT LIZARD-CUCKOO (Jardin Botanico Nacional - Oct. 21) SMOOTH-BILLED ANI (Hacienda Cortina - Oct. 22) BARN OWL (Havana - Oct. 20) ANTILLEAN PALM-SWIFT (Hotel Nacional de Cuba - Oct. 20) CUBAN EMERALD (Finca Vigia (Hemingway’s House) - Oct. 20) CUBAN TROGON (Soroa Orchid Garden - Oct. 22) CUBAN TODY (East Vinales Valley - Oct. 23) BELTED KINGFISHER (Jardin Botanico Nacional - Oct. 21) WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER (Jardin Botanico - Oct. 21) CUBAN GREEN WOODPECKER (Jardin Botanico - Oct. 21) NORTHERN FLICKER (Horizontes La Ermita Hotel - Oct. 23) AMERICAN KESTREL (Finca Vigia (Hemingway’s House) - Oct. 20) PEREGRINE FALCON (Hotel Nacional de Cuba - Oct. 24) CUBAN PEWEE (Jardin Botanico Nacional - Oct. 21) LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER (Las Terrazas - Oct. 24) LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD (Jardin Botanico Nacional - Oct. 21) CUBAN VIREO (Jardin Botanico Nacional - Oct. 21) YELLOW-THROATED VIREO (Las Terrazas - Oct. 24) BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Jardin Botanico Nacional - Oct. 21) CUBAN SOLITAIRE (East Vinales Valley - Oct. 23) RED-LEGGED THRUSH (Hotel Nacional de Cuba - Oct. 20) GRAY CATBIRD (Horizontes La Ermita Hotel - Oct. 23) NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Hotel Nacional de Cuba - Oct. 20) OVENBIRD (Horizontes La Ermita Hotel - Oct. 23) BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER (East Vinales Valley - Oct. 23) TENNESSEE WARBLER (Jardin Botanico Nacional - Oct. 21) COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Hacienda Cortina - Oct. 22) HOODED WARBLER (!) (Hacienda Cortina - Oct. 22) AMERICAN REDSTART (Hotel Nacional de Cuba - Oct. 20) CAPE MAY WARBLER (Soroa Orchid Garden - Oct. 22) NORTHERN PARULA (Hotel Nacional de Cuba - Oct. 20) MAGNOLIA WARBLER (Las Terrazas - Oct. 24) BAY-BREASTED WARBLER (Las Terrazas - Oct. 24) BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER (Hotel Nacional de Cuba - Oct. 26) BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER (Soroa Orchid G. - Oct. 22) PALM WARBLER (the most frequently seen warbler) OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER (Hacienda Cortina - Oct. 22) YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER (Hotel Nacional - Oct. 20) PRAIRIE WARBLER (Horizontes La Ermita Hotel - Oct. 23) YELLOW-HEADED WARBLER (East Vinales Valley - Oct. 23) RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPER (Hacienda Cortina - Oct. 22) YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUIT (Horizontes La Ermita - Oct. 23) CUBAN BULLFINCH (Las Terrazas - Oct. 24) WESTERN SPINDALIS (Soroa Orchid Garden - Oct. 22) SUMMER TANAGER (Hotel Nacional de Cuba - Oct. 20) TAWNY-SHOULDERED BLACKBIRD (Hotel Nacional - Oct. 21) EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Highway to Vinales Valley - Oct. 22) CUBAN BLACKBIRD (Hotel Nacional de Cuba - Oct. 20) GREATER ANTILLEAN GRACKLE (Jardin Botanico - Oct. 21) HOUSE SPARROW (Hotel Nacional de Cuba - Oct. 20)
I love to travel. Sure, I like trying new foods and immersing myself in cities already centuries old when my native Seattle was just unexplored frontier. But the main reason I keep reaching for my passport is to find experiences that stand in stark contrast with my normal day-to-day life back home, like puppets having sex on prime time TV or "edible" beetle larvae. Sometimes you have to really look for these experiences (overly positive news anchors in Canada); other times they smack you in the face just as you step off the plane (India). Even though it lies only 90 miles from the US shoreline, I suspected that Cuba, as a country in many ways stuck in the middle of the 20th century, was replete with opportunities for me to be baffled, stunned and amazed. I couldn't wait. During our six day tour of the country - primarily in Havana, with a couple days in Viñales - we encountered a nice list of "shit that just wouldn't fly back home." None of these observations are right nor wrong, just different. My tone, at times, can be a bit snarky, but most of it is directed at my own culture, and not that of my hosts.